Norway in a Nutshell – Part IV of Adventures in Norway

Thursday, 15 JUL 2010

I think we might have seen more of Norway in this one day than we had seen the whole trip up to this point! Today was “Norway in a Nutshell,” a series of well-organized and spectacular bus, train, and ferry connections that took us into two offshoots of the Sognefjord, the Aurlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord.

Our day started pretty early in Bergen. Mom had arranged for our luggage to be picked up at the hotel and delivered to our hotel in Oslo that evening so we wouldn’t have to contend with most of it during the transfers on our journey. This ended up working pretty well and was a great service!

Since Norway in a Nutshell is just a series of public transportation connections, there was no official tour or guide. Luckily, Rick Steves came to the rescue and had a Self-Guided Tour narrated from Oslo to Bergen. Since we were going the other way, we were instructed to “hold the book upside down.” (I love this about the Rick Steves’ guidebooks, while Brandon thinks it’s cheesy!)

So, the first step in our journey was a train from Bergen to Voss. This was not the most exciting segment of the trip (I didn’t take a single picture!), but that was OK since the weather wasn’t the best either.

Next, we took a bus from Voss to Gudvangen. Again, the weather put a damper on the scenery, but we passed the wide and tumbling Tvindefossen waterfall before driving along the Nærøydal Canyon. At the top of the road was the Stalheim Hotel with our first views of fjord country. We then proceeded down into the valley on the Stalheimskleiva road, 13 steep hairpin bends flanked by the Stalheimsfossen and Sivlefossen waterfalls.

Tvindefossen Waterfall along the bus ride from Voss to Gudvangen. Note the rain on the bus window!


Switchbacks along the Stalheimskleiva road down into Nærøydal.

After about an hour on the bus, we arrived at the boat dock in Gudvangen for the next segment of our journey. The state-run ferry begins at the apex of the Nærøydalfyord (“Narrow Fjord”), the world’s narrowest fjord at six miles long and as little as 820 feet wide and 40 feet deep. Then the boat “hung a right” to cruise down the lovely Aurlandsfjord. Thankfully, the weather had started to improve by this time and it was more comfortable to be out on the deck of the boat. We passed the quaint towns of Undredal and Aurland before docking at Flåm, a scenic, functional transit hub at the far end of the Aurlandsfjord. Although the boat ride was cold and wet at the beginning, I think it was one of the highlights of the day. It was amazing and breathtaking to be surrounded by the waterfalls and tall cliffs of the fjords.

Brandon and I on the Gudvangen-Flåm Cruise.


Mom and Dad in front of one of the many waterfalls along the Gudvangen-Flåm Cruise.

Once in Flåm, it was time for lunch! Of course, Brandon instantly gravitated to the Ægir Brewery & Pub. The Viking-inspired brewpub didn’t have an extensive menu, but it was unique, including a delicious pizza with cranberries. We also had some time to just relax and browse the souvenir shops before catching the next part our journey.

Dad with a Norwegian Troll; Brandon seriously considered this souvenir. 🙂

The sun was shining brightly and it had turned into a beautiful day when we boarded the Flåmsbana, a scenic high-altitude train that winds for 12 miles through 20 tunnels in about 55 minutes. While I had enjoyed the cruise, this segment was definitely the most enjoyable part of the day! The scenery was absolutely amazing as we climbed from sea level to about 2800 feet. We ended up sitting next to a nice couple from Greensboro, NC, who had recently been to the opening of the EMFfringe series. We were instant friends! 🙂

Flåmsbana

The highlight of this segment was the Kjosfossen waterfall. The train stopped right beside it and let everyone off to take pictures. According to a Norwegian legend, a temptress lives behind the falls and tries to lure men to the rocks with her singing. Sure enough, she was there when our train stopped!

The Kjosfossen Temptress.


All of us in front of the Kjosfossen waterfall.

After enjoying some svela as an afternoon snack in Myrdal, we boarded the train to Oslo, our final transportation connection on Norway in a Nutshell. This was also our longest segment at about five hours. Honestly, by this time I was getting tired of traveling and probably didn’t appreciate the scenery as I should. Rick describes it as “the most spectacular train ride in northern Europe.” The entire railway (from Oslo to Bergen) was completed in 1909 and is 300 miles long; peaks at 4,266 feet; goes under 18 miles of snow shed; trundles over 300 bridges; and passes through 200 tunnels. From Myrdal, we were able to travel the longest high-mountain stretch of railway in Europe. Finse, at about 4000 feet, is the highest stop on the line. We did meet an interesting Chinese girl on the train, but that is a story for another time! After that, I think I slept the rest of the way to Oslo.

View from the Myrdal-Oslo Train.

Once we arrived in Oslo, we bought our tickets to get to the airport the next day and then went to find our hotel, Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel. Thankfully, the hotel was pretty close to the train station because we ended up going back when we discovered that Brandon’s souvenir glasses & beer from the Ægir Brewery had been left on top of the airport ticket machine. Unfortunately, it was already gone. It was a rather disappointing way to end an otherwise memorable day traveling across Norway. Even with the questionable weather at the beginning of the day, the journey was filled with spectacular scenery. Norway in a Nutshell truly deserved the “Don’t Miss” rating it received from Rick Steves!!

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Adventures in Norway – Part III

Tuesday, 13 JUL 2010

Today marked the beginning of our journey back south and a new mode of transportation…boat! The MS Trollfjord departed Trondheim at 10am with us aboard.

MS Trollfjord of the Hurtigruten fleet.

The MS Trollfjord is just one of eleven Hurtigruten ships operating on the Norwegian Coastal Voyage route from Bergen to Kirkenes and back. The entire route is 12-days, but we joined the voyage already in progress on Day 11 in Trondheim.

The ship was really nice and quite large. In fact, we had trouble finding our room until we realized that we were looking at the map backwards! Brandon and I were on the 4th deck while Mom and Dad were up on the 8th. The rooms were quite tiny, but we didn’t spend much time there. For the most part, we sat in the Panorama Lounge up on the 8th deck for the best views of the fjords. Of course, the views would have been better if it hadn’t been so rainy and overcast, but at least we could sit comfortably inside and relax.

Brandon checking out the view from our room. That couch he is kneeling on turned into my bed that night.


Mom and Dad relaxing in the Panorama Lounge.

At 16:30, we docked at Kristiansund for about 30 minutes. We got off the ship and walked a little along the harbor. Again, it was cold and rainy and we only had 30 minutes, so we didn’t see much besides this statue:

Statue in Kristiansund.

When Mom made the arrangements for the boat, she also made sure all of our meals were included in the restaurant Saga Hall. Breakfast and lunch were free seating and buffet-style, but dinner required a table reservation. We were able to eat at the first seating at 18:30, but unfortunately, we were in a corner surrounded by an entire family with small children. While I can’t remember what we specifically ate, I do remember that it was all good.

After dinner, the ship stopped in Molde from 20:45 to 21:30. We were able to walk along the main street, but everything was closed at that time of the day. Still, it seemed like a cute town with about 25,000 inhabitants. It is also internationally known for an annual jazz festival.

Molde, Norway.

The MS Trollfjord would make several more stops during the night at Ålesund, Torvik, Måløy, and Florø, but we were soundly asleep in our little cabin!

Wednesday, 14 JUL 2010

Today was most of the same on the boat. This is definitely a relaxing way to travel, but it was a much slower pace than we are normally used to on vacation. (We noticed that this voyage seemed very popular with older travelers!) While Mom, Dad & Brandon used the time to read and relax, I ended up doing homework for my Contemporary Issues in Information Systems and Control class.

The only stop that day was our final destination of Bergen. The weather started out the same as the day before, but as we approached Bergen, the skies cleared and the sun came out! The last hour of the voyage was spent outside on the 9th deck enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Brandon and I enjoying the sunshine as the ship approached Bergen.

Bergen, Norway.

We arrived in Bergen around 14:30, so after we walked straight uphill to our hotel and checked in, we had some time left in the day to explore the city. Our first stop was the Byggens Museum, but they were closing, so we went to the Hanseatic Museum instead. There we learned about the Hanseatic League that existed in northern Europe for 500 years (c. 1250-1750). Clever German sea-traders banded together to defend themselves against pirates and established trading posts from London to Russia. Fish from Scandinavia were exchanged for grain from the eastern Baltic and luxury goods from England and Flanders. Everyone benefited, and the German merchants—the middlemen—reaped the profits. Bergen was an important harbor that was conveniently located between the rich fishing spots of northern Norway and the markets of Europe. Cod was a form of protein that could be dried, preserved, and shipped anywhere while grain, cloth, beer, wine, and ceramics were imported. The museum preserves a typical interior of the buildings where the German merchants lived and worked.

Bryggen, Bergen’s Hanseatic Quarter.

After learning a little about the history of Bergen, we walked by the Fish Market and the Main Square and found a statue of composer, Edvard Grieg (he was born in Bergen).

Dad and I standing by the Edvard Grieg statue in Bergen.

For dinner, we took the funicular to the top of Mount Fløyen for a great view of the town, surrounding islands, and fjords. The Fløien Folkerestaurant had a great multi-course meal and a beautiful panoramic view! I really enjoyed Bergen, of course, it helped that it was a gorgeous day since my opinion can always be swayed by the weather!

Fløibanen Funicular.

Dinner at Fløien Folkerestuarant.

Adventures in Norway – Part II

Sunday, 11 JUL 2010

Today we were able to spend a lot of time outdoors and learned more about life in the Oppdal. Early afternoon, we took a walk to Uvssætra, a summer farm. Traditionally, farmers would take their cattle and other livestock to graze higher up in the mountain during the summer months. The entire family would move to these “summer farms,” and dairy products such as butter, cream, and cheese were made there. Today, there are still some working summer farms, but they are not as common. For example, Losvold (where my great-grandfather was born) had a summer farm, but Utem (where the Bjørndals live) does not.

Uvssætra.

While Uvssætra is a working summer farm, it is also a tourist attraction. It is open to visitors, primarily Norwegian hikers. We enjoyed stopping there for waffles with homemade rømme (sour cream) and jam, coffee & tea.

Enjoying a snack at Uvssætra.

Although the weather was a bit overcast, the scenery walking to and from the summer farm was beautiful!

I think I could live there during the summer!

When we got back to Utem, it was time for their cows to be milked, so we took the opportunity to check out their barn. What continued to amaze me was how small and sustainable farming in Norway has remained compared to the massive corporate farms that are becoming more common in the United States. Of course, they don’t have the wide open spaces to expand either! In addition to their small herd of cows, the Bjørndals also raise foxes and grow hay.


Milking time.

After dinner, we took a hike down to the Driva River with Hanne, Kari, Stein & Lars. It was a steep hike down, which means it was an even steeper hike back up, but it was worth it!

The hike down to the river.


The Driva River.

That was the end of our last full day in Oppdal. We would learn the next morning that Klara, Oddrun’s mother and my grandma’s cousin, had died during the night. We wanted to stay for the funeral service, but it turned out that funerals don’t happen as quickly as they do in the U.S. Klara’s service would be held almost a week later, and it just wasn’t possible to rearrange all of our travel plans. Our thoughts and prayers were certainly with them though.

Monday, 12 JUL 2010

In the morning, we had to say goodbye to most of the Bjørndals.

Hanne, me, and Kari outside their house. Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to see each other again soon!

Olav drove us to Trondheim where we checked into our hotel and grabbed some lunch. Before he had to drive back to Oppdal, we also saw the Norwegian crown jewels in the museum in the Archbishop’s Palace and took a guided tour of the Nidaros Cathedral.

Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.

The highlights of the cathedral tour were the Rose Window and the Wagner organ. Here is some of what the Lonely Planet also has to say about the Cathedral:

“Contructed in the late 11th century, [Nidaros Cathedral] is Scandinavia’s largest medieval building. Outside, the ornately embellished west wall has top-to-bottom statues of biblical characters and Norwegian bishops and kings, sculpted in the early 20th century…The altar sits over the original grave of St. Olav, the Viking king who replaced the Nordic pagan religion with Christianity.”

Although Olav had to leave, we stayed for a short prayer service that consisted of mostly organ music on the newer organ. Then, we made the visit complete by climbing the tower for a view of Trondheim!

Brandon and me at the top of the Nidaros Cathedral Tower.

That evening we ate dinner at an exquisite restaurant called Chablis. It was a delicious multi-course meal that wasn’t far from Lykkens portal (“The Gate of Happiness/Luck”). While our time in Trondheim was short, it was still memorable!

Lykkens portal (“The Gate of Happiness/Luck”)